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2019 Highlights: Shared Reading

Written by Rachael Norris, 27th December 2019

From the start of January to the end of November 2019, the Learning and Quality team have delivered or helped to deliver:

57 Read to Lead courses, in places including South Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Swansea, Northern Ireland, Lincolnshire, Hampshire and Suffolk, training over 480 new Reader Leaders to deliver Shared Reading group sessions

11 A Little, Aloud workshops, training over 60 new Reader Leaders to deliver one-to-one sessions

9 Sharing Stories in the Early Years courses with the First Page project, training staff in children’s centres and nurseries to deliver Shared Reading sessions with children

8 induction training courses for volunteers working at the Mansion House in Calderstones

14 Shared Reading Refresher sessions for Reader Leaders

We’ve also spread the Reading Revolution further beyond the UK, to Reader Leaders in Sweden, Norway, Germany, the USA and Australia!

Clare Ellis, Head of Learning and Quality:

It’s been quite the year for Learning and Quality, but I’d like to share two of my personal highlights:

We had the pleasure of spending two days with the very lovely Don McCown to help prepare him for delivering Read to Lead himself all the way back home in the US. He has a very long title (draw breath) as he is the Associate Professor, Health Director, Center for Contemplative Studies Coordinator, Graduate Certificates in Applied Mindfulness & Integrative Health Coordinator, Undergraduate Minor in Contemplative Studies at West Chester University. Chris Lynn trained him to deliver Shared Reading last year, and since then he has been working closely with Tom Young to be trained up as a trainer himself. We had the pleasure of taking him through our much beloved Read to Lead course in early December - but this time as a prospective trainer rather than participant. He wants to train more people to be able to deliver groups for people living in conditions of homelessness, veterans, people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and also people living with mental health conditions and dementia. So, quite a long list! He is involved in research with our own Dr Josie Billington from University of Liverpool to understand the possible correlations between the impact of mindfulness and meditation and that of Shared Reading. Don feels that there is a lot of cross connections and it was fascinating learning anew about our own practice of Shared Reading but through new eyes and a fresh perspective. Let's keep our eyes out for forthcoming developments and research 2020!

It was a huge effort across different teams in the organisation but it has been great to update our Read to Lead programme this year, using feedback and learning from our volunteers. Our volunteers wanted more help with group dynamics, choosing the literature, and recruiting group members. The new course and indeed, new handbook, has been redesigned with this in mind, and thanks goes to all who helped with this process. A personal highlight for me has been seeing so many people fall in love with Silas Marner in our effort to do a longer and older read over the three day course rather than lots of different short stories and poems. Spending three days with people on just Chapter One takes people on quite a journey and the amount of people who end the course by saying that they want to get hold of a copy of the book now is really inspiring! There's still more learning and more thinking to be done with the ongoing development and improvement of Read to Lead and indeed all of our courses so we are looking another dynamic year of learning in 2020!

Chris Lynn, Learning and Quality Leader:

One of the more exotic highlights was when I partnered with the Danish counterpart of The Reader, Læseforeningen, in Sao Paulo for the most tropical Read to Lead to date! It culminated with a presentation I delivered as part of a convention on 'using literature as a social intervention' at the Sao Paulo University. It was inspiring to meet such engaged trainees and to hear the stories of other projects in Brazil that so passionately believe in the power of reading and its social benefits. You can read all about my Brazilian adventure here.

The George Eliot at 200 Reader’s Day was another landmark event and highlight of the year. An open event which celebrated the works of George Eliot with special guests and selected readings - it was a fantastic day shared by Reader staff, volunteers, group members and George Eliot specialists and fanatics alike.  For me, it was one of the events that signalled the reawakening of Calderstones and the new era of possibilities at the Mansion House!

Natalie Kaas Pontoppidan, Learning and Quality Leader:

It’s difficult to choose just one highlight from the year, but I have to go with the first international Read to Lead to be hosted at the Mansion House at Calderstones which I led alongside Sophie Verbeke, Calderstones Programmes Coordinator and Liverpool Hub Manager. The course coincided with the launch of the Mansion House, and it felt just right that the ‘International Centre for Shared Reading’ was opened and used by keen Read to Lead trainees who had travelled from Australia, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. This was also the first time we got to use our lovely new training room and it was – and still is - such a treat to have space and light in which to do lots of reading and thinking!

Amanda Boston, Learning and Quality Leader:

I delivered a Read to Lead alongside Natalie and Lizzie Dass, part of our Criminal Justice delivery team in Northern Ireland, in March at the beautiful Duncairn Centre in North Belfast. The trainees were a mix of Criminal Justice staff and mental health practitioners, both of whom have lots of demands on their time and can find it difficult to make the space and time for Shared Reading, as beneficial as it is. Despite a few tricky moments, all turned out well with lots of enthusiastic embracing of Shared Reading at the end of three fantastic days.

Tom Young, Learning and Quality Leader:

I delivered a Train the Trainer course this year for two people in Norway, Kari and Kirsten. We did their online mentoring over the Summer, and I visited Sandefjord in September to complete the training. Since then they have already delivered three Read to Lead courses as part of a new Shared Reading project in Norwegian libraries. The movement is growing in Norway, with Kari and Kirsten acting as great ambassadors for the practice and role models for their Reader Leaders. It has also been great to hear how much they enjoy working together and developing a strong dynamic, especially as they did not know each other prior to the project.

Katie Clark, Learning and Quality Leader:

One of my highlights has been delivering Sharing Stories In The Early Years with a team at the Greenhouse Project in Toxteth, as part of our First Page Project. I spent two days working with staff and volunteers at the centre which runs a nursery and after school clubs for children and young people. There was some scepticism at the beginning of the course about how useful the time would be, but the team quickly got on board and there was so much enthusiasm for the power of stories and imagination. They are now running Shared Reading sessions with children at the centre and have also attended a Family Fun Day at the Storybarn with lots of families.

Another highlight has been going out to see lots of groups in action through shared reflection visits. It’s so wonderful witnessing Shared Reading taking place in such a wide range of settings. In the past year I’ve been to HMP Wymott, Woodchurch High School, Belle Vale Library and of course, The Storybarn. I love seeing the passion that our Reader Leaders and Storyhunters have for sharing stories in all of these different places, watching faces light up when someone has a go at reading a line for the first time or shares their thoughts with the group. What a joy it is to work somewhere where people care so deeply about what they do, and want to keep working on it and improving all the time.

Lisa Spurgin, Learning and Quality Coordinator

As the most ‘behind the scenes’ member of the team, my highlight of the year has been getting the chance to sit in on several courses and see them in action. It’s been brilliant and truly inspiring to see the new format of Read to Lead take root and witness how much of an impact the training can have on those who take part in it - much like Shared Reading groups, bonds form in a remarkably short space of time and a new love of literature grows. I’ll never forget one trainee who spoke on the first day of training about how much they disliked reading in their own time, and who, by the end of the same day, was deeply engaged with Shared Reading as a concept and could clearly see its benefits for wellbeing and bringing people together in a different way.

Another course I’ve observed is a new one for volunteers who are delivering activities other than Shared Reading at the Mansion House at Calderstones – welcoming visitors at reception, telling people all about the amazing heritage of the house and selling items at The Reader Shop, as well as other vital roles. This induction course has been developed alongside the Calderstones Volunteer Coordinator and Operations teams and is a great introduction to the values of The Reader, really immersing our valued volunteers into what it is we do from before they’ve even started their roles.

The Shared Reading Community Hub has continued to flourish in 2019, with over 200 reading materials uploaded to the end of November, downloaded a staggering over 10,000 times. There’s tons of brilliant content to be unearthed on the site to help volunteers develop their Shared Reading practice, but a personal favourite is one by our very own Clare Ellis, who shared the mistakes she has made during over a decade of running Shared Reading groups in a warm, human and unmistakably Readerly way. You can read Clare’s post here, and may we all learn the art of flying crooked as we go into 2020!

The Learning and Quality Team have looked at the importance of wellbeing in the latter part of the year, and it’s been a personal highlight for me to be the team’s Wellbeing Champion within the organisation, keeping in mind the little ways in which we can look after ourselves in our very busy and sometimes demanding roles. Earlier this month we had our first team Away Day in West Kirby, and as part of it we enjoyed a morning Wellbeing Walk along the beach, wrapping up warm and reading poetry in the open air. I’d recommend anyone to do similar if they get the chance, especially reading outdoors – it really adds another and very special dimension to Shared Reading to feel the wind in your face and have the sounds of nature accompanying.

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